Craig Breen joined M-Sport Ford this year to lead its World Rally Championship attack in the new Rally1 era while still seeking his first WRC victory.
As the season approaches its halfway point, the popular Irishman has had two podium finishes but remains winless. Next weekend’s Rally Estonia, in which Breen has finished second for the past two years, offers an opportunity to secure that breakthrough victory.
It’s something of an unwanted record to have the most podium finishes without ever winning. Just ask Formula 1’s Nick Heidfeld. Second was first of the losers according to NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. That’s a harsh reflection on a strong result but it must get frustrating when it keeps happening, right?
Thanks to the archive on our partner site, eWRC-results, here’s a look at the eight rally drivers who brought home the most trophies without ever actually winning a WRC event.
3= Rauno Aaltonen (6)
As a driver whose main success pre-dated the start of the WRC in 1973, it’s perhaps unfair to include Rauno Aaltonen on this list. After all, he has wins on Rally Finland, Rally GB and the Monte Carlo Rally to his name, as well as a European title.
When the WRC was born, Aaltonen was already 35 but he scored a second place on the 1973 Acropolis Rally in a Fiat 124.
By the late 1970s and into the ’80s, Aaltonen’s WRC outings were largely restricted to the Safari Rally. In five years with Datsun, he recorded three second place finishes (’77, ’80 and ’81, twice behind team-mate Shekhar Mehta) and one third (’78).
A switch to Opel for 1982-84 yielded one further podium, when he took the Group B Manta 400 to second on the Safari in ’84, his 21st start on the African event.
3= Attilio Bettega (6)
On his home Sanremo Rally in 1979, 26-year-old Attilio Bettega shot to prominence with a third place finish on the six-day event in a Fiat 131 Abarth. He repeated that result in a similar car on the Acropolis two years later.
His move to Lancia in 1982 did not start well when Bettega was hospitalized by a heavy crash on the Tour de Corse which destroyed his 037 (making its debut) while running third. But it started bearing fruit the following year when Bettega finished third in both New Zealand and Sanremo.
Bettega was third on a WRC event for the fifth time in his career on Rally Portugal in 1984, which he briefly led. He then achieved his best ever result on the Sanremo later that year, albeit well beaten by Ari Vatanen’s Peugeot.
Tragically, Bettega would lose the opportunity to remove himself from this list in a fatal accident on the Tour de Corse in 1985.
3= Toni Gardemeister (6)
Toni Gardemeister was hot property when he came through the ranks at Seat. He lived up to that billing with a podium – Seat’s first for more than 20 years – on his four-wheel-drive debut in the WRC on Rally New Zealand, 1999.
That was the high point of the Finn’s time at Seat, and spells with Mitsubishi and Škoda over the coming years were not particularly fruitful.
It took a move to Ford in 2005 for Gardemeister to become a regular frontrunner. His spell with Malcolm Wilson’s outfit began superbly with second on the Monte.
There were further runner-up finishes in the Focus WRC ’05 on the Acropolis and the Tour de Corse, as well as third in Sweden, as he placed fourth in the drivers’ championship standings.
Out of Ford for 2006, Gardemeister had a handful of outings in Peugeot and Citroën machinery run by the privateer Astra squad. First time out on the Monte, Gardemeister took his 307 WRC to third overall.
But that was as good as it got for Gardemeister’s post-Ford years. Joining the new Suzuki team for 2008 did not live up to expectations and effectively brought an end to a frontline career that had not fulfilled its promise.
3= Manfred Stohl (6)
Manfred Stohl had been competing at world level for a long time, winning the Group N Cup in 2000, before finally getting the chance to compete in a World Rally Car in 2002.
Privateer outings over the next few years showed promise and, with the backing of Austrian oil company OMV, Stohl put together a 10-round program in a Citroën Xsara WRC in 2005.
It yielded second place on the rough conditions of Cyprus – the best result for a fully private car in over a decade – and third in Australia.
In 2006, new manufacturer team rules led to Stohl teaming up with Henning Solberg in a pair of Peugeot 307 WRCs which were able to run fully active transmissions, unlike the three top-tier manufacturer squads.
Stohl managed third in Mexico, then three end-of-season podiums in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain (where he was second only to Marcus Grönholm) lifted him to an impressive fourth in the standings.
Taking his OMV backing to the Kronos Citroën team – world champions the previous year with Sébastien Loeb – Stohl was less successful in 2007, his last WRC campaign.
3= Chris Atkinson (6)
Chris Atkinson’s top-level career was relatively brief and was spent largely with the Subaru team during some of its leaner years.
With limited prior experience, Atkinson’s maiden WRC podium came in his first year with the factory Subaru squad when he finished third on 2005’s Rally Japan, then a gravel rally on the island of Hokkaido.
The next two years failed to yield any further podium finishes but a change in co-driver midway through the 2007 season gave Atkinson a boost.
With Stéphane Prévot – himself already a 12-time podium finisher when co-driving for Bruno Thiry and François Duval – alongside, Atkinson hit a purple patch at the start of 2008.
Starting with third on the Monte, the pair then recorded two second place finishes in Mexico and Argentina before claiming third in Jordan.
A final podium finish came later that year on Rally Finland as Atkinson finished fifth in the championship standings. With Subaru withdrawing, that was effectively the end of Atkinson’s top-level career (despite some privateer outings in future years) and there would be no further podium finishes.
3= Henning Solberg (6)
The elder brother of 2003 world champion Petter, Henning Solberg was 32 when he secured his first works WRC drive in 2005, a part-time campaign with Ford.
The following season, running alongside Manfred Stohl in the OMV Peugeot Norway team, Solberg claimed his first podium finish at world level with third in Turkey.
The next five years were spent in M-Sport’s second-string Ford team. Strong consistency in ’07 included podiums at home in Norway (part of a 1-2-3 for the manufacturer) as well as Japan and took Solberg to sixth in the drivers’ championship.
There were two further podium finishes in 2009, on Rally Argentina and Rally Poland when Jari-Matti Latvala crashed on the final stage. Solberg then finished third for the sixth and final time in his WRC on Rally GB in 2011, his last full-time campaign at the top level.
2 Craig Breen (8)
The only active driver on this list, it’s taken Breen a long time to secure a full season at the highest level following plenty of strong showings in part-time campaigns.
The first of those came with Citroën in 2016 when Breen impressed with his run to third on Rally Finland, as team-mate Kris Meeke won.
An 11-rally program in 2017 yielded no better than fifth (six times!) as Citroën’s C3 proved the least competitive of the new-spec cars. It was a similar story the following year, but Breen was a terrific second in Sweden, 20s behind winner Thierry Neuville.
Four outings over the next two years in Hyundai machinery culminated in second on Rally Estonia, as Breen backed up home hero Ott Tänak. He repeated that result the following year, albeit this time as the lead Hyundai behind maiden winner Kalle Rovanperä’s Toyota Yaris WRC.
Yet another second place came next time out in Ypres, in support of Neuville’s home victory. Breen then managed third on Rally Finland, his third consecutive podium finish.
M-Sport chose Breen to lead its team in this year’s new Rally1 era. A sensible run to third on the Monte, won by part-time team-mate Sébastien Loeb, was a very promising start.
The going has generally been a little tougher since then, but second on Rally Italy represented something of a return to form. And with two second places in Estonia already to his name, Breen will be aiming to go one better next weekend and remove himself from the list of nearly men.
1 Alex Fiorio (10)
The man who holds the record that Breen will be keen to avoid is Alex Fiorio. The son of legendary team boss Cesare, Fiorio Jr scored all 10 of his WRC podiums in Lancia machinery in a three-year spell at the top of the sport.
Fiorio was just 22 years old when he claimed a sensational second place (behind Bruno Saby) on the 1988 Monte Carlo Rally in a Jolly Club-run Delta. There may have been limited competition in the days of Lancia domination, but it was only Fiorio’s second WRC start in a top-tier Group A car.
Similar results followed on Rally Portugal (which rocketed Fiorio to the top of the points table), Washington’s Olympus Rally and Sanremo, each time behind eventual champion Miki Biasion. Along with third on the Acropolis, it placed Fiorio third in the championship.
Fiorio’s 1989 season began tragically when he crashed on the Monte in an accident that claimed the lives of Swedish driver Lars-Erik Torph and co-driver Bertil Rhenfeldt who were spectating.
But he bounced back with third in Portugal, a repeat result on the Acropolis, and then two second places on Rally Argentina and Sanremo. In the latter, he lost out to world champion Biasion by just five seconds.
A shorter program in 1990 included two drives with the Martini-backed works squad, and it was on one of those where Fiorio claimed his final podium with third on Rally Australia.
A switch to Ford for ’91 was not a success, and Fiorio’s WRC career then wound down with drives in privately-run Lancias.